Why Facebook Should look Back to the Future

By Tessa Curtis, Principal & Director, Tessa Curtis Associates

Facebook argues it doesn’t produce news, so rules and responsibilities on news publishers don’t apply. Increasingly, this feels like it misses the point. Were politicians and regulators to focus on the impact and influence of news rather than its production social media platforms would surely be centre stage.

Already they see a need for greater credibility. Fake news and accounts are in the spotlight amid mounting concern over manipulation of social media. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says he’s “dead serious” about investing heavily, such as in fact-checkers for news content, whilst Google has just promised to hire thousands of new staff to root out extremist content on YouTube.

There’s little sign yet that massive investment alone will dig the tech players out of this hole. Facebook’s fact checkers have, for instance, themselves been hacked – exposing them to vengeful attacks from those they sought to silence.  And Donald Trump’s use of Twitter, far from promoting its value as a global news platform, has highlighted further limitations – not least with the recent controversy over the hate videos shared from Britain First.

Meantime old media continues to crumble, with Time Inc recently accepting a $2.8 billion bid.  Other iconic names which dominated global media in the twentieth century have failed to square the circle of plunging revenues and rising debt in the digital age. Newsrooms have borne the brunt – jobs axed.

What to do? Here’s a thought which, while a little back to the future, could throw a lifeline to news communities both old and new. What if, instead of more fact and content checkers, Facebook, Twitter, Google and others, were to invest in editorial expertise (otherwise known as journalism) – bringing some much-needed judgement to bear on how they manage news content, even if they still prefer not to generate it themselves.

Newsrooms have long wrestled with many of the issues now confronting tech giants. What can you show from a war zone, for instance, that is authentic but not so shocking or gruesome its use distorts the reporting? Where is the line between self-censorship the public interest?  Openly addressing such questions might convince politicians and regulators the new big players are serious about their social responsibilities.

A talent pool of skilled news professionals exists, spilling out of old media. They don’t all want careers in PR or branded content and, whatever they say, the global tech giants need to raise their game on news.

So, in one corner we have new media giants with deep pockets and a credibility problem. In the other, respected news organisations brimming with credibility and skilled professionals, but on the ropes. Is this rocket science?

Tessa Curtis is founder and principal of Tessa Curtis Associates, an independent corporate communications consultancy. Previously at global agencies including Trimedia and Weber Shandwick Worldwide, as head of corporate PR, she was originally a journalist, latterly Business Correspondent at the BBC and previously Daily Telegraph.

Picture credit: Igor Ovsyannykov

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